A Few of My Favorite Things: Mushroom Season

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A Few of My Favorite Things: Mushroom Season

By Kathy Chouteau

Winter rains have unfurled Richmond’s exquisite natural bounty: Mushroom season, and it’s definitely one of my favorite things about living here.

My passion for mushrooms isn’t about picking or eating them, but rather, discovering and photographing them amid their fascinating shapes and unusual hideouts. Award-winning East Richmond Heights’ photographer Alan Krakauer shares my interest in photographing mushrooms and sells his incredible nature photos and products through his business, Alan Krakauer Photography.

Krakauer recently joined me at one of my favorite local places—the Monte Cresta Trail in Wildcat Canyon—to share some of his go-to spots for mushroom photography amid the trail’s stunning hillside bay, bridge and city views.

We started our hike at the canyon’s Monte Cresta Avenue gate, and as we wound our way along the trail, I observed the nature photographer at work—bearing quiet respect for his natural surroundings and continually searching for mushrooms in their hiding spots.

When he spotted a mushroom emerging from the grass or revealing itself on the side of a fallen log, he could often be seen dropping to the ground to capture it with his lens at the right angle. His trained eye caught most of our finds that day, the Panther Amanita, Coral Fungus and Laccaria mushrooms among them. Krakauer said he often uses Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast as a guide to identifying the fungi he’s photographed.

My hiking companion was generous in sharing his main destination for mushroom photography on the trail—the grove of Eucalyptus, pines and other trees preceding a bench with a literal birds-eye view of the bay and beyond. When we reached it, Krakauer deviated beyond the hilly path into the trees, discovering the largest concentration of various mushrooms on our hike. Often times he was seen getting the perfect shot by carefully brushing away pine needles, twigs and the like.

As a photography pro, Krakauer said he prefers overcast or foggy days as opposed to sunny ones for his mushroom photography, noting that “the light can be diffuse but directional and lends this really pretty quality” as opposed to when it’s “too sunny and there can be too much contrast or light.” He said it can be a little bit harder capturing a balanced picture on sunny days, while “the colors and the saturation just really pop really nicely when it’s overcast.”

There’s something incredibly awesome about finding and photographing mushrooms in their natural brilliance, be it with a Canon camera like Krakauer’s, or a trusty iPhone, like mine. And the mushrooms weren’t the only discoveries on our walk; turns out Krakauer and I attended college in the same Upstate New York city—Ithaca—overlapping the same timeframe. It’s amazing the things you can uncover on a walk above the bay, not to mention the all-around health benefits.

Nature photography has been a lifelong passion for Krakauer, who revealed he was about five or six years old when he first “blew a whole roll of film on ducks in the local park.” In addition to his photography business, he works as a biologist, and studied biology at Cornell University. An added bonus during our hike? Krakauer knows his birds well—we were fortunate to see a few stunners on our hike—and he volunteers for the Golden Gate Bird Alliance.

Growing up, my first glimpse at the mushroom hunting fever possessing certain people was watching my paternal grandfather, William, and his brother, Moonlight—so called because the moon reflected off his bright, blond hair as a child—forage for mushrooms in the Pennsylvania woods. Their eyes would reflect the excitement of a good mushroom hunting score and I was told by my grandfather—in uncertain truth or jest—that he could “smell” the poisonous ones, so not to worry.

As for now, I follow Krakauer’s lead by leaving the mushrooms to flourish and decay in their rightful homes, opting instead to photograph them in their natural glory.

An important note is that the East Bay Regional Park District warns that mushrooms may be beautiful to observe, but some contain dangerous toxins, and collecting them in East Bay Regional Parks is not allowed.

Check out Krakauer’s business, Alan Krakauer Photography.